Saturday 2016/05/07

From Shkodra to Theth


Today we have the famous track to Theth ahead of us. We have decided to first ride the southern route into the Theth Valley. One should be able to ride the Theth round in one day, but with regard to Markus back we do not want to put too much pressure on ourselves and therefore are riding with luggage, so we are not forced to go back to Shkodra.

On the way we take a coffee in Drisht, in a beautifully located restaurant/bar. A young Albanian, who is also on the way to Theth with an old smoldering rented Land Rover and leaves the place earlier, talks with us and invites us. One of the young servants then talks to us in German, which he knows quite well. He tells us that he was also on asylum in Germany and even visited a German school for half a year.

Until Prekal the road is paved. From there the offroad adventure starts again. Soon we overtake the black smoking Land Rover of our new friend, but unfortunately we will not meet again.

We ride along a valley. At one point by a suspension bridge spans over the valley. The road is pretty bumpy. The ground here is rocky and next to sometimes pretty high heels are different sized rock lumps lying around, so that you have to be quite attentive while riding.

After a while, the track begins to meander up the mountain. That's a real challenge. You must never be too slow, but be careful not to get hit the suspension too hard. Markus can't ride standing in the pegs, because it's still too painful for him. Fortunately, at least it doesn't start raining. Otherwise this would be quite a test.

After a while of riding, we suddenly (at least for me, Markus had seen them before) meet two motorcyclists. The surprise and then the task of stopping on the rocky surface is too much activity at the same time for me and so me and my GS bow to the two Austrians, both named Andreas. One of them helps me up and after we have exchanged informations about the track, we head on again. The two have no luggage and make the round trip in one day.

A while later, we meet a young Polish guy who works in Germany and is traveling with a smaller KTM. He is quite worried that he could run out of gas. Thanks to the spare canister of Markus and well filled tanks for our bikes we can help him out. Lucky, because here the gas station density is low in contrast to whole Albania!

Soon we arrive at a small restaurant with attached camping. Also seems to be the official bus stop. Well, you shouldn't imagine it like a bus stop in Hamburg. The bus is a Mercedes of the high-wheelbase Sprinter class, in which and around people wait for departure. A bit like a stagecoach station in the Wild West. The bar/kiosk/restaurant, or let's just call it the station, offers us some sweet treats, which we enjoy after the strenuous efforts of this route.

Unfortunately, here again one can see how shockingly careless the Albanians deal with their environment. Less than two meters away from the station there's a garbage heap of several square meters with pieces of packaging and other trash just thrown away. Waste separation definitely does not exist here and if the garbage bothers, it is probably simply ignited. But you do not want to be near then!

We do not stay very long because we probably only made half of the distance for today. And who knows what else will be ahead?

In between, it's time to go downhill again. This sometimes is a real challenge, as there are also muddy spots. Once my blocking rear wheel slips (I turned ABS off) sideways about a meter before I was able to stabilze the bike again. But we're doing pretty well, I think, especially Markus, who didn't fall over yet.

Already in the afternoon and after about 2/3 of the distance we meet 2 Slovenes on BMW boxers. One on an HP2, the other one on a GS. Both with normal road tires. Above all, Mirko tells us in many words, what we will expect ahead of us. It does not seem very convincing to me, because I can hardly imagine that the way can be even worse, except it is getting completely muddy and the two do not look like this way. Well, we say goodbye to them. I will find them in FB the next day.

In fact, the way is getting better soon. Or maybe we are just getting used to it. Partly we ride even on a very good dirt road, which is embedded in a rocky slope. Riding one of the two ruts is rather unproblematic. Nevertheless, suddenly Markus, who rides behind me, stays out for a while. Worried, I turn and ride back. Phew. There he stands next to his bike which lies across the gravel road. At least, nothing seems to have happened to him! The adrenaline level can lower again.

Markus had simply stuck to the rock with his right pannier. When passing this particular place I had already thought that I have to be a little careful. But my handlebars and panniers are about the same width, so I have a very good assessment. With panniers on Markus bike are a bit further out and this bit was a bit too much. Fortunately, nothing happened except a bump on the pannier, as Markus was traveling slowly. We are lucky!

Of course, right now from one side of a fully occupied 4WD vehicle and from the other side a smal bike with two riders are approaching. Markus and I obviously like to drop down our bikes in front of an audience.

It's not very far to Theth now and soon arrive it. The night before, I picked out an accommodation on that seemed pretty good. We have to ask for this accommodation several times, because there are no much signs in the valley. But social interaction is nice too.

We have to ride up the valley for some kilometers and actually we just want to arrive for today and dream of taking a shower. Finally, our accomodation, the Vellezrit Guri is in sight. Hmmm, there's work going on right now. Looks like a construction site. One of the people is waving to us, the other beckons. What now? Well, let's go and see what happens.

The communication is difficult. A young construction worker understands a few words in English, but he can not translate properly. But it is not the first time that a mobile phone proves the variety of its applications in Albanian tourism. A number is dialed and after a few Albanian sentences I have a phone on my ear again and must try to understand English, which is interrupted from quite a lot of transmission interferences. Jimmy is the one I'm talking with, and his English is pretty well, apart from the transmission problems. He explains to me that although it is currently being built at the guesthouse, we can rent rooms at the price of 15 euros per person including breakfast. I point out that there are apparently only very small double beds and Markus and I are not yet ready to share a bed. No problem, we each get a room, for the same price. And if there are any problems then I should ask for Jimmy and he will come later to our place.

Well, we do not really want to keep looking further for accommodation. So we stay. The host sweeps and wipes through the rooms, which are at least a little bit cleaner then. After half an hour we can use the shower, because the hot water has to be warmed up.

The view from the balcony or from the property is great, wonderful mountain panorama. Almost like at Markus place at home. Only the functioning heating is missing as in Markus home. It gets cold in the mountains and so we relax lying on our the beds under the blanket.

I also talked to Jimmy about getting something to eat here. As I go downstairs to the dining room, I meet Markus sitting in front of an electricial heating between our construction crew. I'm also offered a place in front of the radiator. And we communicate with our hosts in broken English. At least we get some coffee. Well, not bad for a start.

It is an interesting atmosphere. It is probably a café, the only one currently open, as Jimmy later confirmes. This explains the absence of any women. There is also a kitchen next to the guest room. So there's still some hope of getting dinner here.

At some point, Jimmy arrives as promised. Jimmy is an Albanian who fled into exile to the US shortly after the collapse of the Communist government in the 1990s and lived there for 22 years. 3-4 years ago he returned to the valley from which he came. Here his parents and 5 brothers are living. One leads the guest house and is our host. He himself, Jimmy, is trying to set up an info booth in the valley to spread tourist information about the valley and the leisure and accommodation facilities, and he also tries to educate people living in the valley about what tourists from developed countries need and expect. For example, a tourist looking for nature does not want to see the trash thrown carelessly into the bushes. But Jimmy himself admits that he is still unsuccessful in this mission. When he's talking to tourists, like us, people up here joking about him and just say, "Jimmy is lying now," but they do not really understand how the tourism business really works.

It will be a very stimulating conversation with Jimmy throughout the evening, giving us many new and deeper insights into the situation in Albania.

Jimmy's brother eventually starts with preparing a delicious dinner for us. So an amazing day full of impressions comes to an end. A highlight of our journey.